I've been sitting here thinking about the blogs I've written over the last few months. More specifically two points. How a very small and insignificant thing can make a big change in your life and secondly, although some things change perhaps they are still, in lots of ways the same.
That sounds a bit confusing so I'll explain. To do that I must go back through the mists of time, back, back, back (in a hypnotic voice) in fact back to the late sixties.
At the time young Bernard was working at a tailors shop in a small town just south of the river. One Saturday night the cash didn't balance with the books and it took half an hour or so to sort it out. We were a bit late leaving (ding - the one small change). As we all mooched outside there was a young lady walking on the other side of the road and she was wearing a chest. Naturally I strolled over and struck up a conversation.
A few hours and a few drinks later we were promenading near my town park, one arm around the girl and the other hand in my pocket. Things were looking up which was unusual for me on a Saturday night. Suddenly the girl looked up.
"Doesn't that look like John?" she said
"Who's John?" from me.
I caught a quick glance at what looked like Paul Bunyan before a fist the size of a suitcase whalloped me on the head, followed by more of the same. With both hands out of action I discovered that no hands self defence wasn't my forte. So now I'm lying on the floor spitting blood. I would have liked to come out with a witty line such as "Is that the best you can do?" but it would have been redundant. He had two honking great feet hanging from his dangly legs and wasn't afraid to use them.
A couple of minutes (and two cracked ribs) later I started to come 'round. The first thing I saw was about six pairs of bovver boots. I don't know if many people out there are familiar with the 'skinheads' of the sixties and seventies. Big Doc Martin boots often with steel toecaps, short baggy jeans held up with braces. They were short so that you could see that you were being kicked by the genuine article. All shaved heads and tattoos. I think I'll leave the rest of that Saturday night back in the mists of time.
Now, I worked with a bloke who practised Shoto-Kan karate and he thought it might be a good idea if I took it up too. I couldn't agree more. Off I went in my white pyjamas.
I was absolutely useless at it. I could punch things until my knuckles were halfway up my forearms and I still wouldn't be able to fight my way out of a wet paper bag. When we practised 'free style' I must have looked like a Rastarfarian spider with ricketts. The Sensei had me eat a horse between two bread vans twice a week to build me up and in three months I didn't gain one ounce.
Thankfully, at around that time I ran into a chappie who used to go to the same school as me (yes, Dennis my sergeant). Dennis was senior unarmed combat instructor for his regiment. He used to teach classes twice a week in the evenings near to my home (he was posted nearby at the time), and then an afternoon class on Sundays when he visited his mum. "Su-Kempo is what you need." he told me "With those spider monkey arms and legs of yours it's just right."
And do you know, he was right. It relied a lot more on technique, movement and skill. After a good long while I could break one inch boards with an open hand (and other bits of me). On a good day two boards together. If I was ever attacked by a board held motionless at waist height I'd be fine.
The point is that this stuff is OK on TV or for Bruce Lee but in the real world I wasn't sure if it would work. In fact in nearly forty years (apart from my time in the army) I only used it once. Skylarking with some blokes from the pub one of them swung a kick at my chest. Without thinking I threw him off the bridge. The look on his face as he fell eighty feet to the motorway below was hilarious. Luckily we were still on the approaches and he only went down ten feet to a grassy bank and then rolled a bit........:)
After I'd been doing all this leaping and bounding for about a year or so Paul and I were going out on a Saturday night. We thought we'd visit a few inns and perhaps pick up a poppet or two for the evening.
We were walking down the street
Concentrating on truckin' right
I heard Paul's voice from beside of me
And I looked up in a state of fright
Alright, that's enough 10CC for one blog, beside we were neither in Jamaica nor on holiday.
Clumping down the road towards us were about a dozen hulking skinheads. I looked at Paul resplendent in orange and brown if I remember rightly, there may also have been some bright green. I was in maroon and black with a rather fetching blue and gold cravat tied casually to hang over my shoulder. Both of us sported longer than shoulder length hair. I suspected that we were not going to get along with our new friends.
When I suggested we cross the road to avoid them Paul felt it was a bad idea. "They'll only cross over after us and you're rubbish at running. You'll be out of puff before you've made fifteen feet anyway." I threw away my cigarette and admitted he was probably right. Paul reckoned that what you needed to do was pick the biggest and walk straight towards him with a confident stride. 99% of the time he'll be intimidated and get out of the way. Alright I thought, after all we're only a few hundred yards from the ambulance depot.
Paul trod boldly. The biggest skinhead looked him up and down and stepped aside. Jeez, I was amazed. This was far better than learning to break big blocks of ice with my head. Paul had triumphed over a dozen of them and didn't need to lift a finger. He was the new Sun Tzu. I felt I should put Pauls philosophy into action.
I used to like to nip into Liverpool on a Saturday night, a few bars, perhaps the cinema then get the last train home at about half past eleven. Usually I hit the station just as my train was arriving but this Saturday it was raining so I got there a bit early and sat in the waiting room with about a dozen other people. Liverpool Lime Street has a fairly big waiting room.
Some five minutes later about thirty drunken rowdies arrived in dribs and drabs with their various floozies. There was lots of bottle throwing, screaming, fighting and dancing over tables. A few people slipped away. No time to lose my nerve now I thought. I made a big production of lighting a cigar to be sure they'd notice me and then sat there sipping brandy from my hipflask while giving them the 'fisheye'.
The only result of this was that the hooligans edged away from me and I attracted the attention of three or four of their more enticing girlfriends who came to sit with me. Sadly none of them were on my train.
I was a collossus among men. If I went to Rhodes I could probably straddle the harbour entrance. Not only did I not avoid streetgangs, sometimes I crossed the road just so that I could walk through them to make my point. Pretty soon I would be looking for a cloak and wearing my underpants outside my trousers.
Somewhere around this time Paul was working at servicing various pub electronic games machines, making sure they were working OK and emptying the cash. Sometimes I'd go with him and we could have a few drinks as he worked. One of the places was a particularly unsalubrious place in darkest Liverpool. A very clannish pub and the inhabitants would have made Somerset farmers look positively welcoming.
The drinkers looked on with interest as Paul added a few hundred more quid to the hundreds already in his toolbag, they moved a bit closer. Paul took a four pound lumphammer out of his toolbag and slid it across the table to me "In case we need to knock it a bit" he said. There were no problems leaving and I remarked that it was lucky that he had it with him.
It turned out that he often had it with him. He'd had it with him when we met those skinheads a while ago. It wasn't Pauls steely gaze and determined tread that had moved them aside. It was the suggestive way he was swinging the hammer as he marched on.
But, confidence was now in my mindset. I don't go looking for trouble but I don't avoid places because they look a bit 'shakey'. If I go to a new city I like to slip away in the early hours and get the layout of the place before the sun comes up. I like the darkness.
A few years ago my german friend and I were off to visit Munich. It had been snowing and so I wore my long lodenmantle (hunting coat) and she made me wear a french beret. She had to show me how to wear it. "There" she said "You look nice, like some history professor."
We wandered into a large square at Munich, Marienplattze, and there, sitting on a bench and lounging around it, were a bunch of skinheads. The same boots, jeans, T-shirts under braces, shaved heads. People were giving them an extemely wide berth, I just stood and stared. They looked back for a bit and then started to fidget and look at the ground.
"What's that about?" I asked her.
"They are Neo-Nazi's" she said "Just ignore them."
She tugged at my arm "Come away. You are frightening them.".
How the world turns eh? And all because the till wouldn't balance with the receipts forty years before.